This line comes up a lot when you start looking into the concepts of Taoism as they relate to leadership, for obvious reasons. In very practical terms, when cooking small fish, it’s important to know when to touch it, move it, flip it and when to leave it alone. Lao Tzu is referring to a fundamental precept of Taoism, wu-wei, or knowing when to take action and when to allow things to unfold and progress as they will.
This concept translates well to Community Management, for a few reasons. The biggest being a truism of online communities – the noisiest, most vocal users in large communities are generally, a minority. There is great value in knowing which concerns are broad reaching and which affect only that vocal minority. It’s very difficult to keep this in mind sometimes, especially since that vocal minority values their perceived klout in official decisions.
However, they use the same products and services that the rest of the community does. There are many users who would love to tell you their concerns and give feedback, if they knew where to go or were given the chance. It’s important to reach out to those members, find them and tell them “Your opinion matters!”
What’s good for them may not be what the vocal minority wants. And if you start allowing radical changes based on the will of the loudest voices, you may alienate and lose that large part of your user base that you aren’t talking to.
The Taoist philosopher’s world was much slower and decidedly less connected than ours, but the truth remains the same. It’s likely that a large community has members who don’t follow you on Twitter, read the official blog or get the newsletter. I believe Community Managers need to imagine how far-reaching changes will affect those members and advocate for the community as a whole, including those users who they may never speak to directly.